Environmental law - FAQs

Below are a range of frequently asked questions and answers in relation to environmental law and Environmental Agency prosecutions. For further information contact our environmental solicitors on 0203 816 9274.

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Why is it important to know where your site drains go and make a drainage plan?  

It is an offence to allow anything other than clean surface water to enter a stream or brook. Ask yourself, if there was a spill on your premises would this enter the surface water drainage system? If so, there is a good chance that this could end up in a local river causing a pollution incident, and the company would then be committing a criminal offence. Once you have created a drainage plan this will help you to manage your activities safely and to maintain and inspect your drains.

Does my company need to be aware of where dirty water or trade effluent goes? 

Again, this must not be allowed to enter the surface water drainage system as it could cause pollution. Does any effluent enter drains leading to the sewers? This is unlawful unless you have consent from the sewerage undertaker. If you do have consent you must ensure that the quality of effluent being discharged does not exceed any conditions.

What type of materials need to be stored securely and how should they be stored? 

This includes liquids, oils, detergents etc. They should be on impermeable surfaces, in suitable containers. Consider whether it is necessary to install secondary containment, such as a bund wall, so that if a spill occurred this would be contained. Inspect and maintain any bunds and containers regularly to make sure they are in good condition and free from cracks and leaks.  

Why do I need to know what happens to my business’ waste?  

All businesses create some waste as a result of their activities and legally must ensure that waste is only disposed of to a registered waste carrier. The onus is on the business disposing of the waste to check this – look on the Environment Agency’s website or phone them. If you fail to do this, and the waste ends up being fly-tipped, your business will be prosecuted as well as the person who actually fly-tipped it. If you are disposing of your own waste and transporting it to a permitted waste site, you may need to register as a registered waste carrier.  You will also need to check that the waste disposal site has the appropriate environmental permit to deal with that type of waste.

How should I store business waste? 

There is a legal duty of care requiring this. Some types of waste, such as used solvents, can be harmful to human health or the environment. Strict rules apply to the storage, handling and disposal of hazardous waste and you will need to look into whether you need to be registered as a hazardous waste producer by contacting the Environment Agency. If in doubt, take advice from a specialist environmental solicitor.

How should I go about disposing of waste?  

You need to provide the appropriate documentation whenever you transfer it to another person for disposal and check that the person receiving it has the necessary environmental permit. It is a legal requirement to complete a waste transfer note so that the person receiving the waste is aware of exactly what they are receiving. Take a copy of the receiver’s waste carriers registration and any environmental permit they hold. Check regularly with the Environment Agency to ensure these authorisations are still in place. 

How can I prepare for emergency situation?  

If the worst happens, such as a spillage of oil or other contaminant on site, your staff then have a clear emergency action plan, are properly trained, and have the appropriate kit to enable them to reduce the impact of any incident

How do I ensure that treatment facilities on my premises are operated and properly maintained?  

This could include septic tanks or package plants which treat sewage or interceptors which separate oil from water. You must ensure these systems are operated and maintained properly as otherwise there is a significant risk they will cause pollution. If you have consent to discharge (to a local watercourse or sewer) make sure the effluent being discharged complies with the consent conditions. Keep a copy of all servicing and maintenance records to show that the system is being properly maintained.  This way, in the event of an unforeseen incident, you can demonstrate that your business has done all you could to prevent pollution and is less likely to face prosecution.

Why is it important to check your permits? 

Breach of permit conditions is a common reason for prosecution and fines are high for this type of offence. You must ensure that regular, accurate, monitoring takes place to ensure you are operating within permit conditions. If you know your business is in breach take action to do all you can to bring the business into compliance before it faces prosecution.  

Do I need to be aware of the producer responsibility obligations in relation to packaging?  

If your business imports, makes, or use packaging to sell packaged goods, you need to be aware. If it uses over 50 tonnes of packaging per year and has a turnover exceeding £2m it will need to comply with the producer responsibility obligations (packaging waste) regulations. If you have never heard of these regulations you are certainly not alone as they were poorly publicised. The Environment Agency investigates and does prosecute businesses who fail to comply. However, if you self report you can avoid prosecution by entering into an agreement with the Environment Agency called an enforcement undertaking. While you will still have to pay the costs of non-compliance for the years your business was in breach, you will save some money if you self report, and also avoid the adverse publicity of prosecution. However, do not contact the Environment Agency without first taking legal advice from a specialist environmental solicitor.

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